The Tompkins County Workers Center is calling for all workers in the county to have access to paid sick leave for the duration of the novel coronavirus outbreak — but the risk of disease in the county still remains low, according to local health officials.
“We are facing a public and occupational health emergency,” said Pete Meyers, TCWC coordinator, in the Tuesday press release. “Workers who do the right thing and stay home when ill too often face financial hardship or even termination as a result. But now is not the time for business as usual.”
The press release stated that Tompkins County workers should not be penalized for taking extra precautions amid the worsening coronavirus outbreak, which has sickened 92,700 in at least 71 countries as of Tuesday afternoon.
The TCWC is a non-profit organization based in Ithaca that advocates for fair treatment of workers in the county.
While the organization has always advocated for paid sick leave, Meyers said that such a policy should be more accessible for employees given the circumstances surrounding the outbreak.
“Employers that want to be responsible [should] give their employees paid sick leave because of the obvious potential for [COVID-19] to spread,” Meyers told The Sun.
Tompkins County health officials have reiterated that the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in the area remains low and previously said it would work with Cornell Health, the Ithaca College Health Center and the Cayuga Medical Center to monitor the disease.
Cornell sent an email on Monday, writing that faculty, students and staff returning from countries like Italy, South Korea, mainland China, Japan and Iran would be placed under quarantine for at least 14 days. These countries have become the major sources of the outbreak — all except for Japan have a CDC level 3 travel warning.
The University encouraged most Cornellians to quarantine at home, but some will be quarantined off-campus in Ithaca. Quarantined Cornell employees will receive paid sick leave.
Last Thursday, the Tompkins County Health Department sent out a health advisory, acknowledging that the novel coronavirus outbreak could become a pandemic.
“In this potential crisis situation, which I understand is technically low, but that could change, if employees call with flu-like symptoms, for god’s sake, let them take a paid sick day,” Meyers said.
COVID-19 symptoms include a high fever, cough and shortness of breath. Pneumonia can develop in more severe cases. Symptoms can typically appear two to 14 days after exposure.
Currently, there are no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Tompkins County or upstate New York. In February, two Cornell students mirrored symptoms of COVID-19, prompting the Centers for Disease Control to administer tests. The students tested negative for the disease.
New York City saw its first confirmed case of the disease on Sunday — a woman from Manhattan who had previously traveled to Iran, a country in which the disease has rapidly spread.
On Tuesday morning, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) announced that there was a second case of COVID-19 in New York. A Westchester County resident tested positive for the virus, but had not come into contact with any other people already known to be infected, suggesting that the disease is spreading locally.There are currently 108 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S.
Faculty members also received an email from the Office of the Dean on Monday, warning them to prepare for a possible COVID-19 case on campus.